Hoopa delight at Niclai

Saturday, February 28, 2004 The girls tipped off the action at 6 p.m. as they faced Big Five nemesis McKinleyville. After trailing for most of the game, the Lady Loggers took control in the fourth quarter, limiting the Panthers to two points, en route to a 33-29 win.

The boys game, played in front of a packed house, courtesy of the raucous traveling party the Hoopa Warriors trail in their wake, saw Hoopa jump out to a 33-22 halftime lead as they knocked off the Loggers 54-47.

Hoopa head coach Inker McCovey, his voice non-existent as he held the Niclai championship trophy in his arms while well-wishers gave him hearty congratulations, was happy for his team.

"These guys are performing so well right now," he said. "There is nothing more joyful than bringing these kids down here and allowing them to share this feeling."

That feeling came on the back of a well-earned win against a tall, athletic Eureka team. The Warriors' big man, 6-foot-8, 250-pound Everest Schmidt scored a team-high 18 points, while Ramiro Ramirez scored 16, including knocking down four 3-pointers, as the Warriors upset the Big Five champs.

"We were mentally prepared for this," said Ramirez. "We remembered what happened the last time we played them, made our adjustments and came out here and played aggressive, Hoopa ball."

The preparation was obvious from the opening tip as Hoopa displayed more energy and more drive in the first quarter.

Schmidt scored 12 of his points in the opening quarter, as Hoopa served notice to the Loggers that this would not be a repeat of the last game, when Eureka ran the Warriors out of the Logger gym in a 73-56 rout.

Hoopa finished the first quarter with a 20-10 lead as it ran a patient offense, milking the clock, and looking for the best shot. The Loggers, who, if they had made a few more layups would have had a better shot at winning, were led by Mo Purify, who almost single-handedly kept his team in the hunt during the second half.

Purify finished with a game-high 21 points, and once again was an everything-man for the Loggers, handling the ball, defending Schmidt and bearing the brunt of the offensive attack.

Joshua Hash, the Eureka point guard, who had his hands full against the waves of Warriors McCovey threw out on the floor, scored 10 points. Eureka falls to 22-6 while Hoopa, who has a good shot of a home game on Tuesday when the North Coast Section playoffs start, improves to 21-9.

The Eureka girls had their hands full with McKinleyville, a team they had already beaten three times this season.

The Panthers opened in a 1-2-2 matchup zone, that they switched off-and-on with a 2-3 zone to frustrate the Loggers' penchant for getting penetration from their guards.

Mack took a 27-24 lead into the fourth, when the wheels fell off, thanks in large part to the Loggers defense. Eureka held the Panthers to one field goal in the final eight minutes, while Katrina denHeyer and Reia Shapiro took the game over.

denHeyer, who only scored four points, pulled down 11 rebounds, blocked two shots and played tough man-to-man defense against Mack's biggest threat, Ashley Curry.

"If I had to pick one, denHeyer was our MVP tonight," said Kristie Christiansen, as she smiled after the Loggers had captured their first Niclai championship. "She played a great game inside."

Ashley Crnich led Eureka with 10 points and Shapiro added six, as the Loggers won their 18th consecutive game.

Curry led the Panthers with 10 points, while guard Alex Iorg added seven, but the scoring dropped off from there. McKinleyville coach Brad Warze pointed to conditioning as a factor as his team struggled in the fourth.

"They were in better shape than us and it's unfortunate," he said. "Curry, whose effort I thought was extraordinary, is only playing at 90 percent. We just need to find some offense."

McKinleyville (22-7) will certainly move on to the NCS and is in a good position to host a first-round game. Eureka improves to 24-3 and is hungry to add a 19th win to its impressive streak as the NCS begins next week.